Monday, August 24, 2009

Mo-Chica (Los Angeles, CA)

3655 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90007
Mon 08/24/2009, 07:20p-09:00p

Peruvian cuisine is widely thought of as one of the most celebrated, most diverse in the world, thanks to a confluence of factors including Peru's Inca and pre-Inca heritage, the influence of immigrant cultures, as well as the country's unique geography and openness. The capital city of Lima has historically been the center of immigration, and thus has a developed a food culture greatly supplemented by various Asian, Spanish, African, and European factors (in case you didn't know, Nobu Matsuhisa's food is largely influenced by his time spent in Lima).

It is this central coast cuisine that Mo-Chica focuses on. Named after the ancient language of the Moche people, Mo-Chica is the brainchild of Owner and Executive Chef Ricardo Zarate, a Limanite with considerable experience in Japanese-inspired fare (Wabi-Sabi, Zu Robata, Sai Sai, Zuma, Roka, Tetsuya), and his Chef de Cuisine Mario Orellana (Gjelina, Lot 1, Zu Robata).

Mo-Chica Stall
Somewhat interestingly, Mo-Chica is housed in the "food court" of Mercado La Paloma, a former warehouse turned bazaar near USC. Other eateries in the space include Chichen Itza, Oaxacalifornia, and Taqueria Vista Hermosa. Note the sign: alcohol is not served here.

Mo-Chica Menu
The menu is short and sweet, a smattering of Peruvian favorites augmented by one or two daily specials. Click for a larger version.

Three small jars of condiment were provided. One was the omnipresent aji amarillo, while I believe the others were green and red aji sauces, with the green one reminding me a bit of mint chutney.

Chica Morada & Maracuya
We started with two beverages. First was the Maracuya [$2], or passion fruit juice, which was sweet and delicious as it should be. The Chica Morada [$2], or purple corn tea, was much more interesting. It's made from boiled purple corn, intermixed with fruit and sugar, and had a fruity, slightly spicy flavor, with an unidentifiable tinge.

Ceviche del Dia
Ceviche del Dia [$5.00] | Ceviche of the day
Ceviche, or cebiche, is arguably Peru's most famous dish, a fusion of white fish, marinated in lime juice, served here with aji, onions, seaweed (yuyo), sweet potato (camote), corn, and toasted corn (cancha). The fish utilized was kamasu (written kamazu on the menu board), which our server identified as "sea bass," though barracuda is the proper translation, at least according to Google. In any case, the fish was fairly benign, a base on which the other ingredients made themselves known. The ceviche was a great way to start, a bracing kick to the palate--light, refreshing, unabashedly tart, and a bit spicy to boot. Texturally, I appreciated the soft jumbo-sized kernels of corn, and loved the crunchy toasted kernels, which reminded me of CornNuts!

Causa del Dia
Causa del Dia [$4.00] | Peruvian potato salad of the day
I rarely turn down an opportunity to have potato salad, so this dish was a no brainer. It was, however, not quite what I'd pictured in my mind. Causa is a concoction of finely mashed yellow potato, cylinder-shaped, over crab salad and avocado, topped with tomato, aji sauce, and cilantro. The end result was delectable, with the overt sweetness of crab on the attack, tempered by the mild potato, all finished with a distinct heat from the aji.

Inca Kola & Cebada
The next round of libations started off with Inca Kola [$2], Peru's iconic carbonated beverage. Given the name, I was expecting a cola-like drink, but instead, the antifreeze-colored Inca was surprisingly sweet, tasting almost like bubble gum. Finally, we have the Cebada [$2], a barley ice tea with herbs and ginger root. Its taste was perhaps the most distinctive of the four beverages, with a mildly sweet, floral sapor, backed by a hint of herbaceousness.

Aji de Gallina
Aji de Gallina [$10.00] | Shredded chicken, walnuts, aji amarillo bread sauce
Moving on to our mains, Ají de Gallina is basically a dish of shredded chicken in a creamy, mildly spicy ají amarillo sauce. Eating it, I couldn't help but think of curry. I quite enjoyed the chicken, balanced by the simple weight of chunks of potato, and how the slices of hard-boiled egg tempered the power of the dish. Not surprisingly, I could've done without the walnuts, given that I'm not a fan of them; they are, however, a traditional accoutrement.

Lomo Saltado
Lomo Saltado [$13.00] | Beef filet, salsa criolla, fried potatoes
The Lomo Saltado was a dish that I just had to try. It's a distinctly Chinese (chifa) influenced item, made from vinegar-, soy-, and spice-marinated beef tenderloin, stir-fried with salsa criolla, or Creole sauce, containing tomatoes, onions, peppers, and parsley. It came stacked with thick French fried potatoes. I really enjoyed the spicy, intensely flavorful smack of the beef. The use of the various veggies and herbs provided levity to an otherwise heavy, monolithic dish, while the potato proved to be a fitting foil. The dish was fantastic over rice; my only complaint was that the meat could've been tenderer.

Carob Mousse
Algarrobina Mousse
Algarrobina is a syrup made from the algarrobo, or carob, tree, a varietal mainly grown for its seed pods, which were a major source of sugar in earlier times. Here, the algarrobina made for a rich, butterscotch-y, caramel-like mousse that my dining companion likened to pumpkin pie, with a slightly spicy, nutmeg-esque finish. Quite good.

Given my limited experience with Peruvian cookery, I can't comment on the authenticity of the preparations at Mo-Chica (described by the restaurant itself as both "traditional" and "modern"). However, I did appreciate the focus of the food, the careful control of the various elements in each dish, as well as the very reasonable prices. Given the somewhat tepid food selection around the USC campus, Mo-Chica is definitely worth a try if you're in the area.


Blogger weezermonkey said...

How did I not know about this place? It's so close to me!

Thursday, August 27, 2009 9:25:00 AM  
Anonymous Gastronomer said...

Prior to reading this post, I always thought that Mo-Chica was a fancy pants kind of resto. So happy to hear that it's located in a food court and very affordable! I have this thing against paying premium prices for ethnic fare.

Thursday, August 27, 2009 10:48:00 AM  
Blogger MyLastBite said...

I love Lomo Saltado, especially when it comes with a side of rice! Haven't been to Mo-Chica yet but definitely need to now!

Thursday, August 27, 2009 10:54:00 AM  
Blogger dhkm said...

I found something online that may be useful for you

Not able to find anything for the same ingrendence use, but a restaurant need to put on "must go list"

Causa del Dia actually is "CAUSA RELLENA CON PULPA DE CANGREJO" or "Causa De Cangrejo" -- Potato with with plup of crab

The reason you think of curry when you eating "AJI DE GALLINA", even it translate into Chichen in aji sauce but it actually mean Chicken Chili, the ingrendence use are quite smilier to makeing yellow curry.

Lomo Saltado

Algarrobina Mousse

Thursday, August 27, 2009 11:07:00 AM  
Blogger mattatouille said...

i think mo-chica has some fantastic fare for the price. i wish i had a place like this to go to when i was in school.

Thursday, August 27, 2009 11:10:00 AM  
Blogger Wesley said...

This looks awesome and well priced. I'm going to give this a try.

Thursday, August 27, 2009 11:27:00 AM  
Blogger Ravenous Couple said...

Very nice write up! We also wrote about it several months ago They made it on LA weekly top 99 list and it's our favorite Peruvian compared w/ Natalies, Marios...partly because they use real authentic ingredients such as Peruvian aji amarillo compared with jalepeno based aji of most Peruvian places (other sauces sauces such as the black mint sauce also authentic and not available widely.) The causa is also more refined then most places. There was actually a special tasting menu (6 courses for unbelievable $25!) by a few days! It was by far one of the best meal for the money we've had in a while. We'll post about that soon. Perhaps you were there too!??

Friday, August 28, 2009 5:46:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Weezer: As I used to go to USC, I was wondering the same thing!

Cathy: Yeah I was a bit surprised with Mo-Chica's food court location as well. But what constitutes "ethnic" though?

Jo: Stir-fried beef with rice is a winning combination--I guess that's where the Chinese influence comes in!

Dason: Thanks for the additional info and the link about Gaston Acurio. I'll be on the lookout for his new branch of La Mar Cebicheria Peruana in LA.

Matt: Yeah the area around USC leaves much to be desired when it comes to food. My typical dinners consisted of regular doses of the Chipotle across the street from campus. The new gastropub is supposed to be pretty decent I've heard.

Wesley: Definitely give it a shot! I'll look out for your post.

Hong/Kim: I actually stumbled upon your post while researching the restaurant. On my visit, I saw a sign advertising the special tasting menu. It piqued my interest, though I didn't attend, so I look forward to your post on it!

Sunday, August 30, 2009 6:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Gastronomer said...

I finally went to Mo-Chica tonight. So, so good!

Thursday, October 29, 2009 11:21:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

What did you have?

Friday, October 30, 2009 6:07:00 PM  

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